Hamilton ranks poorly on environmental report card

Hamilton's environmental ratings range from C to F on a recent conservation authority report card. The rural west end is doing well, but the urban area sways the grades, officials say.

Conservation authority chair says urban areas sway the grades

This map of the Hamilton watershed shows the amount of impervious surfaces such as pavement and roofs. Impervious surfaces prevent water from seeping into the soil. (Hamilton Conservation Authority)

Some of Hamilton's environmental issues are getting near failing grades from the conservation authority. But the authority's chair says it's not as bleak as it looks.

The Watershed Report Card, which comes out every five years, gives Hamilton a D for surface water quality and riparian buffers (strips of greenery along creeks or around wetlands), and an F for "impervious surfaces," which are hard surfaces such as pavement or rooftops.

But it's difficult to score an A on those things in an urban area, said Coun. Brian McHattie, chair of the Hamilton Conservation Authority.

The more rural western part of the watershed scored very well in the categories, McHattie said.

"But looking at the whole watershed, it's very much influenced by the urban areas. About 40 per cent of our watershed is urbanized."

Elements of the city's watershed are improving, said Scott Peck, director of watershed planning and engineering. But given the gradual nature of the changes, progress is slow.

Peck cites eagles hatching in Cootes Paradise and the removal of a dam at Crook's Hollow as recent victories. But "with the environment, things do take time," he said.

This was the second watershed report card. The grades are calculated using a standard set of indicators from Environment Canada and Conservation Ontario.

Hamilton's grades is "in the middle of the pack" for Ontario urban areas, Peck said.

Here's a breakdown of the report card:

Forest conditions — C

The ideal forest cover for a watershed is at least 30 per cent, Environment Canada says. Hamilton has 19 per cent forest cover. The majority is in the western and central regions of the watershed.

Wetlands — C

Some sections of the watershed, particularly around Spencer Creek and Fletcher Creek, get an A for being 31 per cent wetland. Westover, West Spencer, Upper Spencer Creek and Flamborough Creek also score well.

But other areas of Hamilton, such as Red Hill Creek, have almost no wetland cover.

Surface water quality — D

Water quality in western areas of the watershed, such as Spencer Creek, is very good. But about 13 of Hamilton's subwatersheds received a grade of D or below.

Riparian — D

Riparian buffers are strips of trees, shrubs or grasses that run along creeks or surround wetlands. They also function as water filters, trapping pollutants and eroded soil when it rains. Environment Canada recommends that 75 per cent of a watercourse be buffered on both sides. A map of Hamilton shows that most urban creeks in the central and east have insufficient riparian buffers. The Dundas Valley has good to excellent buffers.

Impervious surfaces — F

If a surface is impervious, it means it prevents water from passing into the soil. The western part of the watershed is mainly natural or agricultural lands, which means it has a high percentage of pervious surfaces. The urban parts of Hamilton ranked as very poor in the report.